“The Autobiography of my Mother” by Jamaica Kincaid

“The Autobiography of my Mother” is a weird title choice for this book because the first sentence tells us that the narrator’s mother dies in childbirth.  It’s ironic that the author would choose to title this book as such when her mother is dead the moment she comes into the world.  How can she possibly write about her mother when she never even knew her?

From what I’ve read so far (part one), I can say that I like this book. First off, the font size is such a relief after reading Crusoe.  Secondly, I like the way Kincaid narrates her life.  She is gradually aging but everything is so subtle that she goes from an infant to a seven year old within a few pages.  She only describes the noteworthy moments in her childhood; I think this is effective because it lets the reader see how she is as a person and whether or not her characterization changes as she matures.

The thing she repeats the most is the idea of love. As a young child in school, she writes letters to her father letting her know that she loves him, but then late confesses that she’s really writing to her mother- but how could she love her mother? she wonders. She never even met her.  Her teacher tells her that she yells at her because she loves her and that the narrator is mistaking love for hate.  Kincaid writes that it is hard to distinguish the two because they often look so similar.

Another character that clearly does not love her is her stepmother- who in fact, tried to kill her once by giving her a poisoned necklace.  The one person who is supposed to love her (her father) does not portray it very well.  He left her with his laundry for some odd years before coming to get her after he remarries.  He is cold and hard to read (but maybe that’s because that’s the face he needs to wear as a policeman) and does not exhibit love in any way that suggests he cares for his daughter as a person.  Of course he cares for her as a daughter because he gives her a place to live and food to eat and encourages her to pursue an education.  However, all of this means nothing when there is no human contact between the two.  As far as I can tell, they probably didn’t even have conversations for more than five minutes.

I cannot help but feel bad for this girl.  However, she comes off as a strong independent individual who does not seem to be affected by most of the things in life.  When she was living with the laundry lady and her father stopped visiting her, she questioned her father’s whereabouts but did not look further into it.  When she broke the laundry lady’s plate, she did not apologize because she didn’t feel bad and even after her punishment she did not feel bad. (Although, she admits that she only felt sorry a long while after).  She seems to be a very stoic person who is not as easily affected by the difficulties of life as another seven year old girl would be.  And for this I cannot help but admire her.

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Gertrude Stein

Wtf Gertrude Stein? What is this nonsense? Someone please enlighten me as to how this ever got published. BUT, I cannot not admit that this is genius.

Nevertheless, I did not understand any of this. Maybe I’m just not thinking on the same brain waves as her and therefore it just went way over my head but I don’t think anyone thinks on the same brain waves as she does. To me, this just seemed like a bunch of sentences a bunch of people said about an object and Stein decided to put them together into stories or poems or whatever these are.

Rimbaud says you needed to “derange your senses” in order to attain true poetry. Stein definitely had no problem doing that. A lot of her pieces seem as if she was writing about the title subjects as if she wasn’t, making it that much harder for a “normal” person to understand. Stein was also a friend of Picasso’s. What Picasso did with paint and canvas, Stein did with pen and paper. Everything is so abstract that you need to stare at it for a while before something (even if it’s just one thing) starts to make sense. It’s hard for me to follow her train of though because she digresses and I can’t see how she gets from one thing to another, but I guess that’s what makes it as great as it is.

Even though I could not understand anything, I think Stein is brilliant for writing in the way that she did.

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The end of Crusoe … finally.

After 241 pages of grueling miniscule text, the book of Robinson Crusoe is finished. There were parts of the book that I did enjoy but more that I didn’t. I did not like the constant counting- it’s impressive that the older narrator Crusoe can remember all these numbers but it was annoying to always read about the amount of something or the direction of something- I would not have wondered about these numbers if they weren’t there. The whole religion thing was just so annoying- he only turned to God because he had no one else to talk to and because of that crazy dream he had when he was sick. When he doesn’t know what to do, he opens the Bible and follows the advice of the first line he reads and coincidentally, every line he reads seems to pertain to him and he feels the Bible was written for him or something. News flash Mr. Crusoe : it wasn’t.

But I’ve said all this in my previous posts of Crusoe. So let me talk about the ending. It was terrible. It was so unsatisfying and it was just bewildering that he would still have all those crazy things happen to him even when he left the island. (Which reminds me, he was supposed to wait on the island for the Spaniards and then leave the island altogether but because he’s Crusoe, he leaves without them, but don’t worry, he leaves them a note, making it ok). I mean, what are the odds that all this can happen to one man? I think he’s just bad luck (like the first Captain said) and bad things are just attracted to him. Then after this terrible trek through the mountains he finally gets to England where he gets married, has kids and becomes a widower- all in one sentence! Oh, and then he leaves his kids to go BACK to the island! and what does he do to the inhabitants there? He brings them supplies. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just give them a ride home on his ship like he was supposed to do IN THE FIRST PLACE?! I think Defoe could have done without all the extra stuff at the end and just have Crusoe leave the island and be done with that. And he could have picked up there in the sequel instead of starting the sequel before the sequel.

Crusoe did not change one bit. From beginning to end, he is the same pretentious imperialist jerk who only seeks for his own gain. You would think being stranded on an island for 28 years would teach him something. Overall, this was just an entertaining story that made me understand why Charles Gildon hate this book so much. I agree with everything he says in his review about this book. Friday remains a savage throughout the entire story. You would think his English would progress after however many years but no, it doesn’t. And Friday just leaving the island with Crusoe instead of waiting for his father to come back? That bothered me. I mean, I understand he said he would be Crusoe’s servant but why does he need a servant if Crusoe’s leaving the island?

My summary of Robinson Crusoe in one word: ugh.

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A Life Without Direction

In this state of life
I remained some times,
uncertain what measures to take,
and what course of life to lead.
An irresistible reluctance continu’d to going home;
and as I stay’d a while,
the remembrance of the distress I had
been in wore off; and as that abated,
the little motion I had
in my desires to return
wore off with it,
till at last I quite had laid aside the thoughts of it,
and look’d out for a voyage.

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The author and his audience.

How does the intended audience affect the way an author writes? Do authors usually write to please the people who will be reading his work or do they write for self-satisfaction? In an excerpt from Montaigne’s “To the Reader” from his essay “On the Inconsistency of Our Actions,” it seems as though he is one of the latter. However, this is a contradiction because he tells the reader that he is writing this for his friends and family and wants to be seen in his “simple, natural, ordinary fashion” and is not writing to please the audience, yet he addresses the reader as if  he knows that someone other than his friends and family will read the essay. Other oppositions that he brings up are natural vs. artifice, myself vs. not myself and public vs. private. These conflicting ideas help Montaigne make his argument that he is writing in his natural form and not in a mindset where he feel he needs to write in a way that the audience will enjoy. Because his intended audience are his friends and family, he does not need to write differently because they know him well enough to understand him as himself. Writing as himself in the first person perspective makes the argument more valid and honest because it gives him more power in his words than if it was written in a third person perspective. The word “I” is used many times in this passage and therefore it is unusual for the word “you” to appear in the second to last paragraph. This goes back to him addressing the audience when he’s not intending for there to be an audience.  Another grammatical feature he uses besides addressing the second person is the use of subjunctives.  In fact, the excerpt starts with the word “if.” He then continues to say that the “if” he presented is not what’s happening and then writes what he’s really trying to accomplish.  Three sentences later he presents the phrase “had I been,” once again spectating how he could have written this piece but ultimately didn’t and goes on to repeat his real intentions of this essay. Because he has a specific reader in mind, he writes in a way different than if he were writing for others to read and therefore it sets this piece of work apart from others that he has written.

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Robinson Crusoe

Daneil Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” is about a Englishman who gets shipwrecked on to an uninhabited island (at least, in the parts I’ve read) and has to survive with all that nature provides him. Luckily for him, he is able to get tools off of the boat that he was on. When Crusoe tells us his adventures on the island, I cannot help but think of Lost, Lord of the Flies, and Castaway and every other “stranded on an island” book/movie out there.

Crusoe’s character is one that slides on a scale from good to jackass. For the first 80 pages or so, he is on the right side of the scale. Crusoe as the narrator tells us the advice his father gives him about staying in the “middle life” because that is where it is most comfortable; the lower class has to work everyday just to get by while the upper class is too preoccupied with money that they miss out on life. Crusoe hears his words but doesn’t listen.  He goes out into the world and as misfortune would have it, he gets taken as a slave. He is actually very understanding as to why the Captain took him to be a slave and carries out his slavely duties for two years.  After that he escapes with a boy named Xury, who he sort of makes into his own slave. But later, he sells the boy into slavery for a safe passage to Brazil. (You see what I mean about being on the right side of the scale?) In Brazil he earns money with his plantation and feels bad that he sold Xury after he realizes how much work goes into a plantation and wishes he had some help. (Again, what an ass).  When he gets a proposition to smuggle slaves from Africa from some other Brazilians, he agrees and that’s when he gets shipwrecked.

And he is the only one who survives. After being on the island for almost a year, he experiences his first earthquake. This is the first time religion appears in the book in relation to him because he cries out for the Lord to save him. After that, he becomes ill and has a dream that God is about to kill him because he has not repented for his sins. This is the turning point of religion for me and he prays to God every day after that. He believes God controls everything and therefore God must be controlling his actions and so he finds peace in this rationality about being stuck on the island. These two events inspire Crusoe to become religious; I think if they hadn’t occurred, he would not have given any thought to religion. After this, he reads the Bible and believes it was written to him because he finds lines in there that relate to what he’s experiencing. Having faith in God might also be something to keep his sanity because now he has someone to talk to and something to believe in so he doesn’t go crazy.

Being on an uninhabited island gives Crusoe the will to do as he pleases and he thinks he’s the king of the island. (How pretentious). He builds himself a “country-home” and a “summer house” or whatever it was and soon learns how to bake bread and harvest crops. He exerts his power over the animals of the island because there is no one there for him to boss around.  I think it is a good thing he is the only survivor of the ship because it has caused him to learn how to work for his food and shelter and it has made him religious. For him to see what his father was talking about, he needed to experience the worst life has to offer in order to appreciate the best that he can get.

So far, I enjoy this book.  But the narration is a little confusing because he repeats a lot of things and whether it’s him telling the story or his older self retelling the story is still something I haven’t figured out yet.

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Fantomina is a creeper.

First of all let me just say the font was ridiculous.  I mean really? I got a headache just from looking at it and then an even bigger one after squinting at it and holding the pages two inches away from my face. Also, the random capitalization of words really threw me off.  I tried to see if those words made up a story on their own but it didn’t make sense so I gave up on that idea. But that wasn’t the only unenjoyable part of this reading.  The story itself is a bit … immature. I don’t mean to offend the author in any way because it was beautifully written but the main character seemed a little desperate.  I mean, she didn’t even KNOW Beauplaisir; she only lusted after him from a distance and she couldn’t have him when she was her normal self because “her quality and reputed Virtue kept him from using her with that Freedom she now expected he would do.” So basically she whores herself up and makes a new identity for herself- Fantomina- and goes to the Playhouse so that she may get his attention.  And naturally she does and as far as I can tell, all they do is have sex.  Their conversations are minimal, really just him commenting her on her beauty. When she realizes that he’s losing interest, she makes up another identity for herself and FOLLOWS him when he goes out of town. (I mean really? If the guy just wanted you for sex, then don’t settle for that. He’s never going to change and she should just move on but again, she’s dumb so she’s not gonna think rationally). This new persona thing happens two more times and then she becomes pregnant which her mother confronts her about and under the circumstances she had to tell her the truth. When she tells Beauplaisir, he doesn’t believe her at first then but he sees she’s really telling the truth. The poor daughter gets sent to a monastery as soon as she was “in condition.” So the main character not only loses the one she yearns so much for but she doesn’t get to be with her child either.

This main character is what the current generation would call a “stalker” or a “creeper” or just plain desperate to the point that she’s pathetic.  I mean, making up an identity so that someone will like you is bad enough but then following that person when they leave town to keep an eye on them is even worse. And when she was “Incognita,” how she hired those two men to be her servants and rented out that extravagant house just to make her cover seem real was a little too over the top for me.  From what I can tell, there was no reason for her to go through all this trouble because it wasn’t even worth it.  What kind of message is this supposed to give to women? “If you can’t get a guy, try changing yourself.” ? Yeah, that’s what we all want to hear. I feel like feminists would be so angry reading this because it totally goes against the whole women being equal and strong and independent thing. This Fantomina could not be more of an idiot.

This story reminds me of the movie “Ever After” starring Drew Barrymore.  The story is based on “Cinderella.” After her father dies, Drew is forced to be a servant in her own house by her evil stepmother who doesn’t even care about the house. One day Drew dresses up as her mother (who’s dead) and goes to buy back a servant her stepmother sold. While she’s there, she meets the prince who is instantly attracted to her.  Because she does not want him to find out that she is not a noble (and therefore they could never be together), she carries on the facade until her stepmother reveals her true identity.  The differences between her and Fantomina are that Drew got her man in the end and she actually deserved it. Here is a trailer of the movie for those of you who have never heard of it.

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